According to a recent survey by YouGov, one fifth of British men have no close friends, and one third have no one they can call their ‘best friend’.
This research coincides with advice from leading scientists that loneliness should be prioritised in public health initiatives and regarded as a ‘legitimate health risk‘, particularly among those already suffering from physical health conditions.
Loneliness in men is seldom spoken about in public because it can lead us to some uncomfortable places, from the embarrassing craving for ‘the perfunctory smile of the waitress at [one’s] local diner‘ to the ‘strange, pornographic meanderings‘ enabled by the boundless, dark depths of the web.
But the urgency of this crisis cannot be understated.
In 2015, research found that male friendlessness trebles between our twenties and late middle age, leading some to hypothesise that men are simply lazy. After all, we tend to forget our friends’ birthdays; our time spent with peers generally consists of nothing more meaningful than ‘drinking and gently humiliating each other‘.
So many men, by the time they reach middle age, wonder why they were never awarded the ‘devoted group of hilarious, dysfunctional pals‘ so often presented as the desirable norm in televisual culture. But there must be a better answer to solving male loneliness than just overcoming gender-ingrained laziness.
‘Why are you so cr*p?” is something my wife says to me from time to time. I smile. I know it’s no insult. She doesn’t mean it generally. Not really. She means it specifically, if I’m moping about. As in: “Why are you so cr*p at having friends?” – Harry de Quetteville, 44
One reason why men may be struggling to make, and retain, friendships, could be found in the issue of time. Men, who seem to thrive off of ‘locker-room banter’, often desire more meaningful friendships with other men, thus enabling them to ‘drop the veneer of masculinity that can handcuff them‘. But men are, according to Ben Plimpton of the Mental Health Foundation, increasingly tied down with the triple oppression of work commitments, family commitments, and caring commitments for older relatives.
Just because men aren’t adept at expressing their feelings, don’t for a minute think they don’t feel, and feel deeply. Many times, men express their feelings using a secret code—a code that even they can’t decipher.
So often, men learn to suppress their loneliness through idolising the companionship of their partner, which is why so often after a marriage breakdown comes a psychological breakdown. The fact is that many men have no friends to turn to.
Men, generally speaking, cannot open up, and are therefore unable to construct meaningful relationships. Much of this indoctrination of ‘performing into our gender‘ stems from childhood, underpinned by generations of men who perceived ‘effeminate‘ maleness to be the ultimate threat to their social dominance.
‘Get a grip’ they will say. ‘Man up’.’Stop being a pussy’. ‘Don’t be a drama queen’.
But perhaps us men should not be so averse to embracing these apparently ‘unmasculine’ traits. In fact, if we were able to express how we truly feel, we might not feel the need to convert these emotions into unhealthy ones of anger and pride.
More sorrow and grief at the hands of madmen in London. Men and religion are worthless.
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) June 3, 2017
Men will stop being lonely only if we attack social constructions of masculinity from two sides. Society must stop blaming all men for their ‘toxic masculinity‘ (masculinity is not toxic), which is built on misrepresentations and generalisations of male behaviour, as in the case of Bette Midler, and encourages self-hatred amongst men who often do possess more biologically aggressive tendencies, which could be channelled, rather than quashed. In addition, men must learn to embrace the social connectedness that pervades female and queer communities by exploring their own psychology without fear of what will be found. After all, what is left unnutured often grows into something scary; it takes time to reconnect with vulnerability and emotional openness.
Some men are content with side-by-side social contact such as playing five-a-side football and viewing sports – that shouldn’t be discouraged. But many are not, and feel a deep sense of loneliness and emotional disconnect. This isn’t because we are lazy, or because there is something wrong with the shape of our masculinity. But we can all do something about it, both by nurturing a new society as a space in which men can talk to each other, and by encouraging an inclusive, diverse masculinity.